Don't Get Stuck With HIV

Protect yourself from HIV during healthcare and cosmetic services

Patron observed sterile treatment for tattooing

Box 13: POST for tattooing
1. Avoid skin-piercing procedures Don’t get a tattoo. This only works for people who are willing to forego a tattoo.
2. Use new disposable instruments (a) Ask the tattooist to use new needle(s) from sealed packages.(b) Ask the tattooist to use new inkpots from sealed packages. (c) Ask the tattooist to open a new bottle of ink for you (one for each color).
3. You sterilize the instruments You can boil needles and inkpots.
4. Ask providers how they sterilize instruments Ask the tattooist how he or she cleans hand-pieces: Vibrating hand-pieces that do not come into contact with skin may be contaminated by small bits of blood and tissue thrown into the air while tattooing. Hand-pieces should be sterilized. If not, HIV and other germs may vibrate off them onto subsequent clients. As the tattooist what he does with left-over ink: Left-over ink should be thrown away. If the tattooist saves ink from an ink-pot used during a previous tattoo, the ink may be contaminated and dangerous. If you believe that tattooist is careful, that’s your call.

Additional information about tattooing

Several technologies are common. Tattoos can be applied with a small hand-held electric machine that moves a small bundle of needles to puncture the skin, or by hand manipulation of needles to make multiple punctures in the skin.

Getting a tattoo is risky business if the provider is not careful.

Risk to get HIV from tattooing

If the tattooist reuses needles or inkpots from an HIV-positive client with no effort to clean, or uses ink left-over ink after tattooing an HIV-positive client, your risk to get HIV from tattooing may be estimated at greater than 10% (see Blood-borne Risks section). If the tattooist is careful with needles and inkpots, but saves and uses left-over ink, your risk may still exceed 10%. HIV can go from a client to needles to ink; if the tattooist does not throw away excess ink after a tattoo, but uses it for another client, HIV can go to that client, even if needles and handpieces are sterile.

Evidence that tattooing has infected some people with HIV

There is a lot of evidence tattooing transmits HIV. For example, a study in India that followed and tested adults every 3 months asked about tattoos along with other risks. Those who received a tattoo between visits were 2.4 times more likely to show up with a new HIV infection at their next visit compared to those without new tattoos.[1] A study in the US found that men who became HIV-positive in prison were 4 times more likely than other men to have received a tattoo in prison.[2] In this short article, Devon Brewer references more than 10 papers reporting evidence tattoos infected people with HIV.[3]


1. Reynolds SJ, Risbud AR, Shepherd ME, et al. Recent herpes simplex virus type 2 infection and the risk of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 acquisition in India. J Infect Dis 2003; 187: 1513-1521.

2. HIV transmission among male inmates in a state prison system – Georgia, 1992-2005. MMWR 2006: 55: 421-426. Available at: (accessed 10 July 2011).

3. Brewer DD, Potterat JJ, Muth SQ, Brody S. Raising the standard of evidence for determining modes of HIV transmission. PLoS One 2009. Available at:  (accessed 20 October 2018).


7 responses to “Patron observed sterile treatment for tattooing

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